Female Founders: Julia Dawe On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
You have to believe in your business! You will be told “NO” by so many people and you will face so many obstacles that unless you’re really passionate about the business you’re starting and really believe in its potential, you will give up. One thing that helps is surrounding yourself with a group of people who believe in you and your business so that on days when you’re struggling to see whether or not it’s worth it to keep pushing, they can remind you that it is!
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Dawe.
Julia Dawe is the daughter of an entrepreneur, she grew up in a home in Canada where coming up with business ideas and product names with her siblings was as common as playing Monopoly in other households. One day, while leaving the gym, Julia reached into her bag to grab the jewelry she’d tossed in before her workout, fully expecting to have to unravel it when she pulled it out. But on this occasion, her necklace had landed in the bristles of her hairbrush and, for once, her necklace didn’t tangle on itself. Julia had an epiphany- two years and five prototypes after that trip to the gym, Julia had a product in hand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
In 2015, after graduating from The University of Toronto with a teaching degree, I started working full time as an elementary school teacher. I loved my work and never imagined embarking on a different career path. Every day after work I’d go to the gym to participate in a group fitness class. One day I was running late and tossed my necklace into my gym bag, knowing I’d have to untangle it after class. Much to my surprise, when I went to find my necklace I saw that it had landed in the bristles of my paddle hairbrush and the bristles had kept it from tangling on itself! I thought “WOW! That is a really cool idea for a jewelry case” and left it at that. In 2018 I gave birth to my first child, and while on maternity leave decided to use my extra time to see if I could turn my idea into a reality. The rest is history! After a year of prototyping, setting up my business, etc. Blingo officially launched in the Fall of 2019 and I haven’t looked back since!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Last year I applied and auditioned to be on Dragons Den, the Canadian equivalent of the super popular American TV show, Shark Tank. Thousands of businesses apply to be on the show from all across Canada so I didn’t think I had a great shot of making it onto the show. Much to my surprise, I got a call saying that Blingo had been chosen to pitch our business in front of the panel of dragons (ie. investors). I couldn’t believe it! Pitching Blingo in front of the dragons was an incredibly nerve-wracking but also a super rewarding experience. Three out of the six dragons ended up offering us a deal which was very validating and we were given incredible advice from all six of the investors.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Once my first prototypes arrived I was so excited to share my idea with the world that I signed up to be a vendor at the first relevant trade show I could find that was taking place in Toronto. It happened to be a luggage and handbag show. An hour into the trade show I realized how unprepared I was! Businesses and stores who were at the show to order inventory for their stores were asking me about purchase orders, turnaround times, point of sale displays, etc. and I had no clue how to answer them! It was definitely a humbling experience. I learned that 1. There was a lot I still had to learn and 2. Sometimes it’s best to take things slowly and execute them well.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Starting a business is tough, especially while raising kids and trying to maintain some sort of work-life balance. I can wholeheartedly say that I wouldn’t have been able to launch or continue to run Blingo without the help of my family members- my parents, my husband, and my siblings have all stepped up to help more times than I can count and I’m eternally grateful to them for being so generous with their time/expertise/resources.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I think it comes down to time and responsibility. While the world is definitely starting to shift, the majority of women are still the primary child raisers, home keepers, cooks, etc. in their families. Until we see more men start to take ownership of responsibilities/duties at home, I think it will continue to be challenging for women to found companies!
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I think it has a lot to do with the messaging that our young girls are being fed. I grew up in a family where I was told that I could be and do anything that I set my mind to and yet I still grew up believing that owning a business was primarily something that men did. I think that if we show young girls more stories of successful female entrepreneurs they’ll start to believe that founding a company is an option for them.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Female founders are strong, brave, hard working, talented, creative, etc. and when women become founders they show other women that they can be strong, brave, hardworking, talented, creative, and successful too!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
I think the biggest myth is that founders have it easy. Popular opinion seems to suggest that founders are able to sit back and relax, while their companies grow effortlessly and this couldn’t be further from the truth! Behind every successful business is an extremely hardworking founder- someone who is willing to work around the clock and pour their blood, sweat, and tears into their business. I believe that success is 99.9% hard work and 0.01% luck (being in the right place at the right time, which one could argue is also a result of hard work).
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
In order to be a successful founder, you have to be someone who is okay with making mistakes, being told “no”, working hard, and taking risks. If you want to work a 9 AM-5 PM, like to avoid risks at all cost,s or are sensitive to criticism then entrepreneurship is not for you. I don’t think that some people are born to be founders and others are born to work “regular jobs”, I think it comes down to timing (some people are not wanting the life of a founder while raising young kids, but might be super successful founders once their kids are in school and they have more time to focus on their business, etc.) and passion (once you have an idea you’re passionate about and believe in, you can find within yourself the traits you need to be successful), both of which are fluid.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Entrepreneurship is not a straight road up! Obstacles appear all of the time. Some examples of obstacles I’ve faced include receiving samples of products that were ugly, delays in shipments, language barriers between myself and manufacturers resulting in being told “no that’s not possible” for multiple months, Covid, etc. It can feel like a grind! But don’t be discouraged! If you have an idea that you love and you think others will too… keep pushing!
- Put yourself out there! One thing I think I did really well in my first year of business was seeking out and signing up for every opportunity for exposure! I have to admit, putting myself and my product out there for purchase and hence, review was SCARY! But, one step at a time! Seeing customers genuinely love Blingo was very rewarding and seemed to fuel my desire to tell more people about it. The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities you’ll find! In my first year of business I contacted a few hundred influencers, attended multiple trade shows, applied to be on many TV segments, etc. and I experienced a lot of success because of it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You might think “why would THAT person want to help me?!” Everyone started somewhere! In my experience, people who have no reason to help me have been so willing to share their expertise! Two examples- Michele Romanow from Dragon’s Den, and Rachel from Hillberg and Berk. Both are super successful Canadian, female, entrepreneurs with who I’ve had the opportunity to connect with since starting Blingo. Both of them are busy women and I thought they definitely wouldn’t have time to invest in me but both have been so generous in providing incredible mentorship.
- You have to believe in your business! You will be told “NO” by so many people and you will face so many obstacles that unless you’re really passionate about the business you’re starting and really believe in its potential, you will give up. One thing that helps is surrounding yourself with a group of people who believe in you and your business so that on days when you’re struggling to see whether or not it’s worth it to keep pushing, they can remind you that it is!
- Starting a business will require significantly more time, energy, and resources than you think! I remember thinking (naively) that once I worked my butt off to get Blingo up and running, the rest would take care of itself and Blingo would grow organically into a multi-million dollar brand! HA. What I’ve learned is that nothing happens without a lot of hard work, determination, and persistence. Getting a business off the ground is the easy part, the real hard work comes when you want to grow!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
You mean aside from thousands of women being able to travel without dealing with the stress and frustration of tangled jewelry thanks to Blingo? ;)
Whenever we have the opportunity to give back and support organizations that help people in need, we take them! Blingo is still in its infancy, but as we continue to grow, giving generously will be at the forefront of what we do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I totally believe in the concept of mentorship and helping one another. I’ve benefited so much from people choosing to say ‘yes’ to investing in me (even when it was of no advantage to themselves) and I take every opportunity to pay that forward! I’d love to exist in a world where more people were engaged in mentorship relationships.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oh my gosh, if you could arrange a private brunch with Lori Greiner for me, that would be great! Ha
Lori is a powerhouse businesswoman who I admire greatly for her personal success, but also for the way that she gives back to other business owners who are just starting out. Growing up watching Shark Tank and witnessing Lori’s powerful, female presence on TV allowed me to believe that I could be a strong female in business too! Also, I think Lori would LOVE Blingo, so that would be a bonus too! :)
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.